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Climate change could worsen the forced migration crisis

A billion people could be forced from their homes by 2050; 250 million of them permanently displaced by the effects of climate change. Without urgent action global warming will exacerbate the conflicts, natural disasters and development projects that drive displacement and the problem will spiral out of control. Current international mechanisms to address displacement are feeble, disorganised and under-funded.

A report from Christian Aid argues that forced
migration is the most urgent threat facing poor people in developing countries.

The world currently has around 163 million
forcibly displaced people. This figure includes 25 million internally displaced
persons (IDPs) –, victims of conflict who remain within national boundaries; another
25 million IDPs displaced by natural disasters; 105 million development-induced
displacees forced to relocate by dams, mines, roads,
factories and wildlife reserves; and 8.5 million refugees, who have fled across
national boundaries.

IDPs have no organisation dedicated to
protecting them. All too often IDPs fall into the gaps between different United
Nations (UN )organisations. In
countries such as Sudan, Burma, Colombia and Zimbabwe they are reliant on their
own governments. Stranded within their countries and largely ignored by the
media, they are the world’s forgotten people. The legal principle of national
sovereignty has a huge impact on the lives of IDPs as international agencies
can only assist them with permission from governments.

Unlike displacement by conflict and disasters,
displacement caused by large-scale development projects is predictable and
preventable. The lives of those forced out of their homes by development
projects may be permanently damaged. Compensation and mitigation policies
achieve nothing unless genuinely implemented and monitored by independent

Poor people will suffer most as a result of
climate change, but rich people are most to blame for it. In sub-Saharan Africa
people emit less than one tonne of carbon dioxide per
year while in the US it is twenty-four tonnes. As the
West rushes to embrace apparently ‘carbon-neutral’ biofuels millions of poor
people are at risk of being pushed off their land.

Case studies look at:

  • Colombia: one in twelve people
    have had to flee their homes and an area equivalent to three times the size of
    Wales has been illegally seized

  • Burma:
    displacement resulting from 60 years of civil war is being worsened by a rush
    to build dams

  • Mali: rising temperatures
    are forcing farmers off their land and raising tensions between nomadic cattle
    herders and farmers.

Christian Aid demands a much bolder
international response to forced displacement, and urges:

  • states to integrate the UN
    Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement into national law and make real
    efforts to uphold them

  • governments to fulfil their
    obligation to help IDPs to return home voluntarily or resettle in another part
    of the country

  • the UN Security Council to
    be less hesitant about using military force to protect displaced people

  • action to ensure those
    affected by infrastructure projects are adequately compensated and able to resume
    viable livelihoods

  • governments to work with
    communities and NGOs to prepare for natural disasters

  • international mobilisation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and keep global average temperature increases below 2
    degrees Celsius.